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District energy will save homeowners money

Municipality budgeting $2.5 million for system, WDC to pay $1.8 million

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Homeowners in the new athletes’ village could pay about 15 per cent less for their heating bills than the average Whistler homeowner.

That’s the preliminary cost savings calculated by municipal staff on the state of the art district energy system at the Olympic development turned legacy neighbourhood.

“It will certainly be more efficient (than gas or electric heat),” said Neil Godfrey, the vice president of the Whistler2020 Development Corporation (WDC), the municipal organization responsible for building the athletes’ village that is now expected to cost more than $131 million.

“I don’t know the exact numbers… but it will be less than electricity or gas heating.”

The calculations were done very carefully and with a number of different scenarios said Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services.

“That’s what we looked at very closely before approving this project because we recognize this is affordable housing so we didn’t want to burden the homeowners with a more expensive energy system,” he said.

In addition to the cost savings, the calculations also show that the renewable energy system, which captures heat from the sewage plant, transfers it to water and then pipes it around the village, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent compared to a traditional electrical system.

The system will provide about 95 per cent of the heat in the village homes and roughly 50 to 75 per cent of the heat in the domestic hot water supply.

“Every house is going to be heated essentially 100 per cent by the system,” said Godfrey. “There may be occasional top ups with electric coils within the system if, for example, the load requirement gets too high.”

That will most likely happen during the 2010 Olympic Games when some of the larger townhouses will be sleeping 10 to 12 athletes, most of whom will be looking to grab a hot shower in the morning.

The back up system may also kick in during severe weather events in the winter.

Another back up system could come from the boilers at the sewage plant, which would be fired up to top up the heat during cold weather snaps.

The municipality is sharing the cost of the project with the WDC. That organization is paying for servicing the village with the district energy system’s pipes at a cost of $1.8 million.

The municipality has budgeted $2.5 million to build the heat exchanger and the pumps that capture the heat from the sewage plant. Current estimates put the cost of that portion of the project at $1.4 million but $2.5 million has been set aside in the $51 million wastewater treatment plant budget.

It is not yet clear if the municipality will operate and maintain the system.

“Once we specify the exact scope of work related to billing, and customer response, maintenance, operating requirement, that kind of thing, then we’ll look at the best organization and the format for delivering those services,” said Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services.

“We own the equipment and whether or not we contract out the maintenance… is the question.”

He expects to have the answers to those questions within the next year.

Homeowners, he added, will pay for the cost to operate the plant as well as contribute to a reserve fund for future upgrades. They will not pay back the capital costs to build the system.

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